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High-Speed Internet

MINET internet seeks to expand

POLK COUNTY -- Residents of Glasgow, Ky., are able to get more than 70 cable channels for less than $20 and enjoy high-speed internet access for about $25, thanks to their city-owned power utility.

Might Monmouth and Independence be close behind?

Last week, the city councils of both communities held a joint meeting to discuss possibly beginning the second phase of the Monmouth-Independence Network (MINET), in which the cities would sell Internet, cable TV and telephone access to residents over an expanded fiber optic network.

The cities are still in the early stages of researching the project. Should they decide to proceed, they'd join a small but growing number of municipally operated telecoms throughout the country.

Monmouth City Manager Jeff Hecksel said it would be setting a big precedent in the state, as well.

"As far as I know, in terms of cities, we would be the first to do a complete fiber-to-home build in Oregon," he said.

MINET serves businesses that exist on fiber loops built in central areas within both communities. Under the proposed expansion, the city would extend fiber -- underground or on poles -- to all residential neighborhoods.

"We intend to go by every home with fiber," Hecksel said.

Once the infrastructure was in place, MINET would act as a retail provider and offer cable TV, telephone and Internet access. Customers could sign up for any one, or all three of the services.

Hecksel said MINET would provide Internet access, but would buy its telephone service wholesale, then package and sell it under its own rates. It might do the same for cable content, or act as its own provider.

Entry-level price points for services would run from $15 to $20 for telephone service, and $25 to $30 for cable or Internet access.

"Our whole operation is designed to pay for the cost of providing the service," Hecksel said. "We'll be able to offer lower prices because we're not a for-profit organization."

He said exact offerings for cable and Internet services were still "a piece of work that we're going to have to figure out.

"But those are our targets for entry-level services...for Internet, they're better than anything you can get right now in town, unless you're already on the network."

Scott McIntyre of Alcatel, one of the firms that assisted city staff in a feasibility study of MINET's second phase, said the fiber network would offer enough flexibility to serve residential or business subscribers with a wide variety of performance levels.

"Internet access can be anywhere from two to 200 times faster than DSL or a cable modem," he said. Entry-level Internet service would clock in at 256 Kbps.

Hecksel said the expansion, should officials commit to it, would be a major undertaking.

To operate and finance the project, Monmouth and Independence would enter into an intergovernmental agreement and make MINET a separate ORS 190 entity, which allows them to incur debt on behalf of the cities.

Construction of the network would take three years, Hecksel said. It would cost approximately $8 million to fund capital improvements over the first four years, and an additional $2 million for short-term operating expenses.

The project would be funded using revenue bonds, which would be paid back over 10 years using proceeds from the sale of services.

Hecksel said the state has tentatively agreed to issue bonds for the program if the cities decide to pursue it.

There is risk involved, he said, but officials from both cities have shown interest in expanding the network, even while the first phase was being developed.

"Really, the two keys here were to build a base to ensure for economic prosperity now and in the future, and to have high livability in the two communities," he said. "To date neither city council feels that anybody is stepping up to provide us with these services, so that's why we're looking into doing this."

Monmouth Mayor Larry Dalton said he'd like to see the project become reality.

"We did phase one of the project because there was no broadband service in our community," he said. "Even though we're in a rural community, that technology is important. I think it's necessary."

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